Tuesday, February 14, 2012

SPORTS >> Panthers make strong showing

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panthers wrestling program has developed rapidly since it was established just a few years ago. After Saturday’s state finals concluded at UALR, Cabot’s program has continued to progress as the Panthers finished fifth overall in class 6A/7A, and left with a three-time state champion.

As a freshman, Tyler Kurz won the state championship in the 113-pound weight class. As a sophomore Kurz jumped up two weight classes to win another state title at 125-pounds. As a junior, and at 145-pounds, Kurz entered the tournament looking to win a third state title.

Kurz entered the finals with a 26-1 record on the season, and challenged fellow junior Isaac Smith (36-4) of Fort Smith Southside for the 145-pound title. The match was highly-competitive as it went all three rounds, but Kurz’s strong start helped him earn a 12-5 decision, and his third state championship.

It wasn’t just Kurz who was performing at a high level for the Panthers, as it took a team effort to earn a fifth overall ranking. Cabot had four other wrestlers competing for medals on Saturday and two who were wrestling for the championship in their respective weight classes.

“They did more than we’ve asked them to all year,” said Cabot coach Jason Rogers. “We had a goal set that we were going to score 200 points, and place fifth. We scored 232 points and placed fifth. So I think overall as a team we’ve had a very successful tournament.”

Cabot’s 232.0 points was 99.0 points behind Springdale Har-Ber’s 331.0. Har-Ber finished first in 6A/7A, and its point total bested both classifications. The two other wrestlers for Cabot who were going for a state title were Kyle Wheeler and Bryce Mitchell.

Wheeler challenged nationally ranked sophomore Tyler Mann of Little Rock Central for the 152-pound championship. These two met a about a week and a half ago in the 7A Central Conference tournament. In the conference tournament, Mann pinned Wheeler with less than one second to go in the first round for the win.

This time Mann (35-1) got the win even quicker, pinning Wheeler (22-4) in 1:37 to claim his second straight state championship. Mitchell (13-5) battled his way to the end against Bentonville’s Andy McDowell (40-5) for the 170-pound title, but McDowell won by a 10-4 decision.

At 285-pounds, sophomore Keith Pledger (20-4) pinned Chuks Ota (23-5) of Jonesboro in 1:10 to win the third place match. Panthers senior Chase Campbell (20-4) finished his wrestling career with a 9-4 decision over North Little Rock’s Khalil Campbell (15-5) to take fifth place in the 182-pound weight class.

When it was all over, Kurz (27-1) wasn’t done collecting the hardware as he became one of six wrestlers to be voted Most Outstanding Wrestler. An award voted on by the coaches.

“I’m very proud of our state champion,” Rogers said. “He won the Most Outstanding Wrestler in the 130 to 170 pound weight classes, and he’s the definition of a state champion.”